Thursday, February 22, 2007

Professorial Parlay: Climate Change

Leeds Met has a nice event that is organised every 4 months or so: the professors and readers of Leeds Met meet one evening, to discuss a topic of interest over a "light supper". The event is usually held in "The Grange" which is the oldest building on the Headingley Campus of Leeds Met - the Vice Chancellor has his office there.
The meeting room has a nice chimney, large portaits hang at the wall, providing an aura of history and tradition.

Before we started with the "topic of the evening", which was "Climate Change - and what the Academic Community can do", we remembered Robert Ellis - a condolence book was available so that we could write a brief note.

Regarding the further topical discussions: The overall consensus among us was that the climate change is happening, and that something needs to be done. Most people expressed the opinion that drastic measures are necessary and should be implemented, to reduce CO2 emissions and avert the climate change. Also it was said that people need to change their habits, in consuming, in transport. I was a bit hesitant to bring in my own viewpoint on this, since it seemed to be almost isolated in the sea of consensus, but in the end I voiced it: all measures that will be introduced to battle climate change, are pointless, because they will have very little effect. Every little saving in emissions that we can achieve here in this country will be overcompensated by increase of emissions in other parts of the world. Climate change will happen, that is for sure. The latest UNESCO report states that even in the most optimistic case (that is every measure is taken, and the emissions will actually sink from 2020 on) the temperature will rise by a total of 2 degree Celcius. It has risen so far by 0.8C in the last 100 years.
So the temperature will get warmer, ice will melt, and the climate will chance. This has consequences - and it is these consequences which need to be dealt with. A huge wave of fugitives will arrive - there will be worldwide migrations of populations towards areas with better climate. Are we prepared to accept these fugitives? Is the infrastructure being prepared? Are the resources being developed (water, energy)? What about schools? Houses?
And what about the social acceptance? Are the populations of Europe being prepared that they will have to share their space with a couple of 100 Million immigrants from Africa or Sout-East Asia? This will happen, and our governments are not doing any preparations for this. Instead they opt to add more taxes onto CO2-intensive activities, such as flying and driving. But a higher price does very little to reduce the CO2 output - people drive when they have to drive, and they fly when they have to. They just have less money left afterwards. I, for example, would not change a thing, just because it is more expensive. I have to drive to work every day, as there are no suitable bus routes from where I live. I will have to fly a lot - how else can I attend a conference in New York or Beijing? Or should I go there by ship, or bicycle?
By imposing these taxes, everything will just get more expensive, and the government will have more money available to waste it on where they want to waste it. And the economy gets hurt, because people have less money to spend.

Not that I would recommend to do nothing: in fact I am all for all possible measures to reduce emissions. But I would not consider the climate change the major problem, but pollution in general. CO2 is not a pollutant - it is necessary for all plant life to exist. Just that there is now too much of it, and the climate system is imbalanced. But the more threatening thing is the poisson in most emissions: CO is a killer. Carcerogenic substances are everywhere, threatening the health of everybody - right now! This is in my opinion the true problem that needs to be addressed. And if it is addressed, then automatically also the CO2 emissions would be reduced.

There was not much discussion about this issue afterwards - the Parlay participants chatted in smaller groups, at a glass of wine, as the evening slowly faded away.

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